Friday morning Donald Trump said in an interview on Fox News that he would not support a “moderate” GOP immigration bill that would allow most DREAMers to stay in the U.S. and reduce the number of children separated from their parents at the border. The conservative alternative was heavy on border security and enforcement.
But later, the White House walked back that rejection, saying the president was “confused” and would sign the bill.
The chaos only added to GOP worries about the issue of immigration, which has split the party in two in the House.
Earlier this week, House Speaker Paul Ryan had told colleagues that Trump supported the middle-ground package. White House aide Stephen Miller, an immigration hard-liner who has been accused of trying to sabotage immigration deals in the past, told conservative lawmakers at a closed-door meeting that the president backed that plan.
But a senior White House official later said Trump had misspoken and believed his Fox interviewer was asking about an effort by GOP moderates — abandoned for now — that would have forced votes on a handful of bills and likely led to House passage of liberal-leaning versions party leaders oppose. The official, who was not authorized to discuss internal conversations by name, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The interviewer had specifically asked whether Trump supported a conservative bill penned by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., or “something more moderate,” and asked whether he’d sign “either one.”
The White House later put out a statement formally endorsing the measure.
“The President fully supports both the Goodlatte bill and the House leadership bill,” said White House spokesman Raj Shah, adding that Trump would sign “either the Goodlatte or the leadership bills.”
Trump also weighed in by tweet, writing that any bill “MUST HAVE” provisions financing his proposed wall with Mexico and curbing the existing legal immigration system. Those items are included in the middle-ground package.
“Go for it! WIN!” Trump wrote in a tweet that stopped short of explicitly endorsing the compromise plan.
The compromise bill may need some Democratic votes to pass, and Nancy Pelosi has signaled the leadership’s opposition. Besides, Democrats are in no mood to do any favors for Republicans, even if the compromise measure has some protection for DREAMers and addresses the issue of separating children at the border.
So Speaker Paul Ryan is going to have to find a way to entice most House conservatives to vote for the “moderate” alternative. It’s an uphill battle, and if Trump truly wants the legislation, he and the House leadership are going to have to fight for it.